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Old 07-14-2013, 12:43 AM   #1
irontent
 
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Default Cargo Van to Iron Tent

After looking at commercial RVs for a while, we decided to do our own conversion because we could not find exactly what we wanted, and the workmanship and component quality on most we saw was lacking.

We wanted a vehicle that would get decent fuel economy, provide a comfortable experience for days / weeks at a time, has plenty of electrical power for all our toys, and could be used on a near four season basis. We also want to be able to boondock (some of our favorite fishing / hiking places are above tree-line), and enjoy RV campgrounds while traveling cross-country. After flying for work several times a week for many years, I don’t ever want to get back on an airplane, but we still want to travel extensively. A Sprinter-based conversion seems like just the thing.

In the fall of 2012, we ordered a long, tall cargo van, and began the design in detail.

CargoOut.JPG

CargoIn.JPG

We are using a floor plan similar to several commercial conversions we saw which includes a 48” bathroom (we like our showers), a queen size bed / couch, a large fridge, and a full galley. We are leaving about 15” behind the sofa for cargo (golf clubs, extra coolers, motor cycle & biking gear, etc.

Some of the key components are: dual 220 watt solar panels, 2 8D batteries, roof air conditioner, vent fan, two inverters (one big, and one small for light loads), microwave, second alternator, Espar D5 for engine preheat, domestic hot water, and radiant heat, awning, and the usual fresh, gray, and black water tanks and cabinets.

To get a jump-start, we had several items installed by a up-fitter once we received the van: alternator, Espar, solar panels, AC, vent, battery box, couch/bed, and awning.

Alt.JPG

Battery.JPG

RoofACPanelsVent.jpg
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2013 E3500 170 Conversion DONE, but probably never finished: Dual Alt, 2x8D AGM, 2xKyocera 220w panels, Tristar solar charger, Espar / radiant heat / hot water, too much boat wire, Magnum & Morningstar inverters, some 8020, lots of maple, and ...
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Old 07-14-2013, 12:48 AM   #2
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

We plan three methods of charging the house battery bank: Solar, Shore Power, and the second alternator. Having a second alternator enables the use of the back air conditioner while driving without regard of the state of charge of the house battery system. It also provides an alternative way to charge the house batteries on cloudy days -- just drive to another camping spot. To insure the batteries are properly charged by the 320 Amp second alternator, I am using a Balmar multi-stage regulator. So far, so good.

AltReg.JPG
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2013 E3500 170 Conversion DONE, but probably never finished: Dual Alt, 2x8D AGM, 2xKyocera 220w panels, Tristar solar charger, Espar / radiant heat / hot water, too much boat wire, Magnum & Morningstar inverters, some 8020, lots of maple, and ...
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Old 07-14-2013, 12:55 AM   #3
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

After finishing most of the design, I am starting the detailed electrical install. This forum, and those of you who have been detailed in your posts and pictures, have been a huge help.

First up is to get power to the Air Conditioner to make the rest of the conversion more pleasant this summer. I installed a convenience outlet, fed by the shore power inlet.

AC4AC.jpg

SrvEntInt.jpg

SrvEntExt.jpg

Most of the electrical components will be installed in an ottoman which forms part of the bed with the sofa. Since it will be sealed, and some of the components will generate heat while operating, an input fan, and an exhaust fan will provide good airflow. Each fan consists of two 120mm computer fans with a nice metal grill.

OttoExhaust.jpg

All the main electrical components will be mounted on a ¼ inch piece of aluminum plate bolted to the top of the wheel well. A large invertor will be mounted vertically using a 3/8 piece of aluminum plate with an L bracket bolted through the floor.

OttoPanel.jpg
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Old 07-14-2013, 01:04 AM   #4
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

I am planning to do exactly the same thing within the next few years, 'though I will probably be working with the standard length van. The Balmar regulator is a good idea - I have the same one on my boat, with just a 100 amp alternator and 440 Ahr of traction batteries. It has proven to be very reliable, and it maximizes the output of the alternator.
ps. I also like my showers!
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Old 07-14-2013, 08:59 AM   #5
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

You seem to have the external hook up mounted through the wheel well, and a junction box with spade connectors mounted outside behind the mud flap?

I may have that wrong from the images, but if not I'd recommend relocating the junction box inside and reconsidering the outlet location. Compare the spade connectors to the genuinely weatherproof OEM connector in your pic...

Don't they look huge when empty?!
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Old 07-14-2013, 02:43 PM   #6
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

The junction box is in the interior of the van -- only the weather protected entrance is in the wheel well. If too much road slop (winter in Colorado) fouls the service entrance, I'll find a more protected spot. Usually, the ice/snow accumulates on the lower edges of the tires, but I will see.
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Old 07-15-2013, 08:53 PM   #7
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

Expect some diminished performance of those solar panels as they will be shaded by the AC and possibly the vent when open at certain times of the day.
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Old 07-15-2013, 10:45 PM   #8
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

Please comment on how you spec'd the 320a second alternator. Seems kinda large.

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Old 07-15-2013, 11:21 PM   #9
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

Good choice on the Suresine inverter, as well as the BlueSea relays.

I too would be concerned about not getting as much solar gain as you may expect. The dirty little secret about mobil installations is because they are seldom ideally aimed, they don't perform as well as a fixed array. (not to mention that people tend to seek shade in a RV.

My rule of thum for off grid is take the STC rating of the PV, divide that number in half to account for all cumulative system loses, then multiply that number by 4 to account for average hours of GOOD sun one might reasonably expect, per day averaged over the course of the year, taking into account cloud cover, partial shading etc.

So, your 440 watts of PV might look like this: 440/2=220*4=880 WH/day. Unfortunately, on an
RV application you might likely see 50-75% of this because of a number of factors, but most especially your panels are likely to run hotter (much hotter) than STC since there is little air space under the panels. Hot PV produces less than cold PV.

In the real world, in our off grid house, we have 400 watts of PV, ideally sited. We use 5-800 WH/day for all uses, and we seldom have to run the genny to charge. On a great, cold day, with lots of reflection we can harvest upwards of 1.5kwh, but on average, we harvest just about 800-1000 WH.

Good luck with your conversion, and keep in touch,

Icarus
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Old 07-16-2013, 01:14 AM   #10
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Default Re: Cargo Van to Iron Tent

Quote:
Originally Posted by jackfish View Post
Expect some diminished performance of those solar panels as they will be shaded by the AC and possibly the vent when open at certain times of the day.
+1
I ran a multimeter on my panels, and a very small shadow can knock out 50% or more of the output. Unless the sun is directly overhead, I'd guess you'll only have one panel's worth of output, once you take into account the shadow on the other panel, and other system losses due to heat, being flat etc.
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